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TEAM u l t i t h m e ate DavidMarcumandStevenSmith .

man beings will al. Line Director for the 2010 Chevy Volt. “Thousands of ideas and strategies this year will either change the world. Or what about a report on a solar-powered laptop that weighs two pounds. or futuristic engineering. It was a team that developed the iPod (no matter how much solo me. somehow. Maybe your initial reaction would be different if this were the technology article unveiling the concept of the iPod or iTunes years before launch. re-modernizing medicine. we understand. especially now that we know it drove a world-wide music revolution.T o the point. But.tems and electric components. and is always connected to the Internet at DSL speed whether you’re in the Amazon or Beijing? Better yet. It’s a vehicle designed to go 40 miles before it uses a single ounce of gas. and another 400 are working on related subsys. But most of those articles painting the picture of market evolutions and world revolutions would and will rely on a team—somewhere.most always be tack.ery of the key that would wipe out cancer from planet Earth in less than five years. . “That’s how important we think this is. The most inspiring possibilities and persistent prob.” GM is making a big bet and teams will either be the key to their success. are high because teams require a serious financial commit. There are so many topics that could engage your mind and enliven hope. 2 © 2010 FifthGear Leadership. and so it’s natural that we would much rather read about new energy alternatives.. “We have devoted significant resources to this project: Over 200 engineers and 50 designers are working on the Volt alone. Pause for a moment to think about the energy crisis America faces. the latest technology. or a major reason for their demise.ment before they ever produce a return. and in almost any business race.” Bored already? Believe us.led by a team..teamwork? Traditional talk on teamwork is overdone and underused.. has a 12-hour battery life. and that’s how much stock we place in the future. Which team from which company will be the first to crack the code and win the energy race? Consider the team working on the Chevrolet Volt that’s to be unveiled in 2010.” said Tony Posawatz. imagine your interest if this was a paper announcing the discov. The stakes in that race.. and a team will improve portable comput. elevate our use of energy (and maybe the Planet) and may ultimately conquer cancer. All rights reserved.lems we face as hu. this is a paper on what most people call “teamwork. LC. some attention Steve Jobs receives).

” .or be pushed to an early grave. by the way a team works .

3.most 28% when compared to organizations with lower engagement scores. by the way a team works.” or 80. But most teams aren’t great. When asked how often individual agendas get in the way of making progress as a team. LC. among 327 teams representing nearly 4. They might think they are. down-to-earth.000 people. And for good reason—companies who score high in employee engagement improve their operating income by 19% and their earnings per share by al. “Team dynamics are the unseen. and a long way from being great. might be one of the most important topics we could ever talk about. forces that impact performance. the aver. and care that the right idea wins. All rights reserved. and more candidly than we ever have. or hope they can be. Whether they know it or not. know how to let ideas clash rather than people. but not un.mance. they’re good at best. In an effort to raise performance. 55% of those same people said daily or weekly (figure b). and research validates it. So while the topic of teams and teamwork. For instance. 70% said people were engaged or very engaged.” And that’s why what happens inside teams. when asked how engaged people on their teams were. from creative teams at Pixar Animation to your team. historically there’s been a lot of focus on talent development.But it’s never enough to throw smart people in a room. 3 © 2010 FifthGear Leadership. wish they were. How often do individual agendas get in the way of team progress? . When it comes to team performance. if we expect better products.felt. at least as typically talked about. Team dynamics are the unseen—but not unfelt—forces that impact perfor. people and performance. whether they admit it or not. right? Not necessarily. carries the baggage of being boring and ordinary. regardless of whose idea it is. Performance proves it. 77% daily/weekly/monthly 23% quarterly/annually/never Exhibit A. or be pushed to an early grave. ready for change. and how engaged people are in their work. So with that level of engagement you would expect more great organizational performance. In a recent MarcumSmith survey. from a Presidential White House Cabinet to the Board of Directors at GE. the results teams are expected to produce never are. And we have to talk about what happens inside teams—team dynamics— differently than in the past. candid. but they’re not.age “grade” teams give themselves on team dynamics is a “B-. Thousands of ideas and strategies this year will either change the business world (at least your part of it). That’s close to being a good team (but not quite there). Everestsized goal. Great teams are remarkably open-minded. good is usually the enemy of great. call them a team and challenge them with a Mt. because “engagement” isn’t the only way to better numbers—and engagement doesn’t equal great performance.

000 people. the average ‘grade’ teams give themselves on team dynamics is a B.” .“Among 415 teams representing nearly 6.

to push themselves as hard as they can.macy of those reasons. experienced people who are in the right roles and driven to do G3 work. Adequate Great (value maintenance) (value creation) Low Underperforming (value subtraction) (value maintenance) Talent If we have the right levels of talent and ambition. Not all teams are created equal in talent. We’ll then explore how team dynamics affect our ability to get the most from those two build. The first two building blocks are: yes 1. Are these the only two factors at play. that we’ve attracted bright.. or cares enough. say. maybe hundreds of reasons teams don’t care enough to do their best. let’s assume ambition and talent on a particular team are very high. Mercedes. right fit: the team has top talent in’s the way team members engage with each other that . what we call “G3” (great. If there’s less of either talent or ambition (or. but every team.mines team dynamics and blocks great team performance.Another 22% said monthly. gigantic goals). but it’s the way team members engage with each other that under. let’s explore the first two vital building blocks that need to be in place to build a highperforming team. the sky’s the limit. 2. capable. dreadfully. For a moment. All rights reserved. But before we talk about those dynamics. and their desire to hit G3 is uniquely high. and people in the right roles. “ .. Top talent. But regardless of the reasons or the legiti. and Honda? Does Toyota have exceptionally smarter people with greater drive 4 © 2010 FifthGear Leadership. if people don’t really care. ambition and performance.gaged.Talent. Exhibit B. both). is there really that much of a difference blocks. There are dozens. then we live with a heavy ceiling that limits our capacity. though? In considering both talent and ambition. GM. Ambition: the team sets bold objectives. The performance potential for teams with those two building blocks in place is represented in the chart below. then talent doesn’t usually make much of a difference. LC. Not every team dreams big. regardless of talent level. the talent of the engineers at Toyota and those at Ford. It’s not that we can’t get people on teams en. has the ability to maximize that talent and their own performance by changing the way they work together.

undermines team dynamics and blocks great team performance . ” .

or keeping pace with. what separates great performing teams from everyone else from is the dynamics of the culture in those organizations and on those teams. Short-term success often comes at the expense of long-term ability to produce results. and nothing more.” not “what can we do better than Company X?” Debates about ideas are motivated by the best idea winning. As a result of their “enemy-centered” approach. West Region. much less other teams or the organization for whom they work % 4 . Marketing vs. team second. The second column briefly de.Then why aren’t more automakers outperforming. but is usually under. In the words of Tribal Leadership authors Logan. why is the quadrant of great performance rarely visited if we essentially have equal talent and similar ambition? What’s the difference between one team that knocks performance out of the park.” Agreeing to disagree is frequently the “easy out” to seeing things differently. Honda. and me third. and represents a microscopic percentage of the difference. East Region vs. Us-vs. and as a result get value-added product replication or slight modification rather than original innovation. i. or Ford? The answer is no . the third building block of the ultimate team. King and Fischer-Wright. Products. Ambition is driven by “what can we do uniquely to have an impact in the market.scribes the way those teams think about work. not whose idea wins. So then why aren’t more automakers outperforming. me-first focus preempts collaboration and diversity.-Them (Interdependent): Organizations at Level 4 get preoccupied attempting to best outside competitors. Me-Centered (Isolated and Corrosive): Level 1 teams (and we use the word “team” loosely) sub. team member competition.e. There are five levels of team dynamics that impact talent and guide ambition. say.. vs. When talent and ambition are relatively equal and in place. Toyota?” than any competitor on Earth? The answer is no. The dominant phi. Teams at Level 4 work together effectively but get distracted by internal competition with other teams. the first column represents a team’s level of dynamics. is either the ceiling or competitive advan. organizations at Level 4 aren’t as collaborative with other teams as they could be.losophy is “my idea wins” vs. inconsistent and difficult to sustain. GM.versively undermine change and don’t like each other. In the chart below.“Does Toyota have dramatically more talent and ambition than. even in difficult circumstances or tough market conditions. Debates and discussions are frequently competitive and occasionally combative. People and teams at Level 2 are “jobholders. Me-Then-We (Independent): The focus of Level 3 teams is characterized by individual recognition and team member vs. Sales. “Culture eats strategy for lunch. Mercedes. “the best idea wins. Success is moderate. Services. Toyota? For any organization. or keeping pace with. and the team that doesn’t? It could be luck. The third column shows the percentage of team cultures that operate at that level: Level Focus of team culture 5 We-Then-Me (Interdependent): Organizations and teams at Level 5 think company first.valued and poorly utilized because individual. Luck is always a factor in business success (like it or not) but isn’t a very reliable strategy. Diversity may be present.tage in reaching great performance.” Team dynamics.” people who just do their jobs. Great performance is consistently delivered. Me-Centered (Isolated and Indifferent): Level 2 teams don’t care and are change-resistant.

LC. All rights reserved.3 21 2% 22% 49% 25% 2% *Percentages: Logan. 5 © 2010 FifthGear Leadership. King and Fischer-Wright at USC. .

college tuition. retirement. you have a sales presentation to make on a several. Counter to cultural business clichés. promotion. the project our team is working on. Hitting your quota could mean many things: commission. me second. weddings. If you walk into that meeting and begin making your 6 © 2010 FifthGear Leadership. 1. We-Then-Me Attitude In business. the client in front of us. according to most. There are five key char. At first glance. a “we-then-me” approach to work translates to the progress of our company. And before anyone would buy a more we-centered approach to work. while 67% don’t believe their bosses have the firm’s best interests at heart.The bottom two levels almost never change because they don’t care enough to try. 58% of workers believe most top executives put their own self-interest ahead of the company’s. The market. you have a monthly quota. always votes them “out of office. Let’s explore the idea. reputation. both we and the team will ultimately be better as a result.-then-me doesn’t exclude or downgrade what we personally need. house payments. what’s in it for me? The ironic answer is that the less we focus on our individ. We. In a highperformance culture. that’s not the way we currently do business. and so on. “58% of workers believe most top executives put their own self-interest ahead of the com- pany’s.” Organizations at Levels 1 and 2 are dead men walking. That dedication to progress requires a sequential focus: team first. The only realistic way to turn those numbers toward better team dynamics is if we believe that by putting the team’s needs first. or what our team needs compared to others. but naïve idea—naïve because. there is an “I” in “team.ual needs first.hundred-thousand-dollar proposal. the more likely our needs will be met. the market we serve. Let’s talk about each in depth.” and an important “I” at that. With that pressure. It just prioritizes the focus. Imagine for a moment you’re a salesperson for IBM (or any company). we-then-me could sound like a nice. or put the brakes on the downward spiral they sense is inevitably coming. All rights reserved. the pressure is on. and so on. if shown a more effective way to work and want to either accelerate the positive direction they’re headed. when it has a vote. LC. while 67% don’t believe their bosses have the firm’s best interests at heart. In a Rutgers and University of Connecticut poll. Levels 3 and 4 can and do change.acteristics that define the dynamics of teams operating at Level 5.” . Like every salesperson. we need to ask an ironic question.

then me” is effective when times are good.casing our “you can’t live without me” brilliance. the more important it is for you and your company to progress. and seek the acceptance of those who can send us to the unemployment line. the more important it is to forget about your numbers and help clients meet their numbers. In good times. a company needs contribution from people. their trust in you goes down. then me” is the most direct strategy and incentive for survival as well as moving to the next level of performance—on both sides of the equation. so does the temptation to adopt a “me. In other words.panysecond view. it would be exactly the wrong approach.vances the progress of your company. that intent taints the interaction on both sides. the more likely you are to meet your client’s needs. You may oversell product features. If progress is truly our primary motivation. which in turn ad. mistake understanding for agreement and enthusiasm. the less likely we are to survive. the more important it is to meet your numbers. The irony of a survival of the fittest mentality is that as pressure for survival increases. then me” unrealistic if you’re vying for a limited number of jobs? Is that a legitimate out for taking a me-first. we. it’s no less effective when times are bad. occupy time show. we won’t let individual passion and commitment to a project or idea drift into a me. no. The needs for both increase when times are hard—companies need more contribution and people need job security. In turn. then we” attitude—to be defensive about our ideas. but we should be guided by what’s best for the business and our clients.or us-first. But do company or employee needs change in difficult times? The answer is no. and the client loses the economic benefit of not getting the best solution. If “we. In fact. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t passionately make our case for our needs or ideas. they grow suspicious of what you say. or push too hard for the close. The more we focus on self-survival. “Is then me realistic in a down economy? Shouldn’t it be ‘survival of the fittest? Actually. “survival of the fittest” approach? Even though that’s a typical response. client. By definition. As the client feels your me-then-we intent.presentation with your focus first and foremost on your needs—to hit your numbers and get your commis. and don’t give you ac. not just our own territory.cess to information or people they otherwise would. you lose the sale and your company loses the revenue. and therefore more likely to meet your needs. Is “we. treat colleagues as competitors. and people want to keep their jobs. become guarded about what they say. But why? As soon as the client senses a me-first intent from you.or com. that decline puts us one step closer to the exit. “We.sion—are you more or less likely to make the sale? The answer is less likely. smooth over objections.’” maybe you have a better product than your competitors. But let’s consider a tough situation outside of sales: your company is on the ropes and “downsizing” on the horizon. The irony is that in suspending your own needs. rush through a technical explanation. 7 .In sales. the more important it is for you to suspend the focus on that progress and devote yourself to the progress of your clients first. Everybody loses.

. LC.© 2010 FifthGear Leadership. All rights reserved.

people know team playership is a difference-maker individually and collectively. including merit and performance. 2. That imperfection was incentive enough. and every record broken. a pervasive lack of complacency with whatever was accomplished yesterday. Fishman continues: [Improvement] is rooted in an institutional obsession with improvement that Toyota man. etc. processes.435 employees in 400 organizations asked people to reveal the most important factor for getting ahead in the workplace. For decades. but not as well). Toyota is now the world’s largest automobile manufacturer. In reality. but realizing they can’t do it themselves (or they can.” Thedynamicsofhigh-performingteams 8 © 2010 FifthGear Leadership. Great teams are never satisfied. While their process wasn’t “broken” by competitive standards.[What’s] interesting is to compare how they think about work at Georgetown with everywhere else. change when circumstances force it.ages to instill in each one of its workers. Toyota is a model citizen of constructive discontent. Intuitively. Constructive Discontent Constructive discontent is the ability to be proud of where we are and the work it took to get there. or the “reasoned” explanations for current performance. What used to require 100 gallons now takes 70. Fishman goes on to describe how they improved the painting. intelligence. came from a person or team who couldn’t accept the status-quo. Being a team player ranked higher than all factors. focused and wanting to make a difference. paint flush changes.People often think of a we-then-me approach to business as being a “team player. When driven by constructive discontent. we aren’t looking for a final destination thinking we’re “finished. the rest of us are stuck in 2-D. talented. . it wasn’t perfect. team players are the people who play at Level 5 and know exactly what it means and the difference it makes. But in the truest sense of the phrase.” but the teams at Toyota. Kentucky Toyota plant made in how it paints cars. talk but never do anything about it. Charles Fishman writes of a recent improvement the Georgetown. In a Fast Company article on Toyota’s dissatisfaction with satisfaction. But “team player” has earned an unfair reputation by poor leaders as a phrase to get people “in line. How come the checkout lines at WalMart never get shorter? How come the customer service of your cell-phone company never improves. or are too satisfied with status-quo. paint cartridges. it’s not “Toyota. over half of all teams in our team survey research say they only make occasional big changes. making money for the organization. “The paint shop at any moment holds 25% fewer cars than it used to. A University of Connecticut survey of 2. and at the same time never satisfied with “good enough. Almost every great accomplishment in human history. leadership skills. All rights reserved. who are the real model citizens. LC. year after year? How come my PC gets harder to operate with each software upgrade? It’s almost as if Toyota people see the world with special four-dimensional glasses. nozzles.” But the details of the specific improvements aren’t really the point. Wasted paint? Practically zero.” no matter how well we did. Speaking of 2-D. instead of 10. poor team leaders have abused the phrase “team player” for the sake (or illusion) of being right and in control.” writes Fishman. if by “team player” they mean strong.” Leaders who lead by the force of their position rather than the power of their ideas use “team player” as a way of forcing people to cave in or give up for the “good of the team” when the “non-conformists” don’t agree. and working long hours. “Cars now spend 8 hours in paint.” That’s true.

We can’t accelerate progress without “clash. or they lack intensity to begin with. “We’re all incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished. Team intensity levels . Let’s first clarify what we mean by intensity. and galvanizes everyone. fighting. then effective debate depends on what kind of violence you’re talking about. “in pursuit of the best answers. it wouldn’t seem revolutionary.gression..” The Toyota story is an example of small changes a team made inside a very large corporate machine. the dialogue between different points of view. “You need executives . When diversity goes down.who argue and debate—sometimes violently—” said Jim Collins in his landmark book Good to Great. or more than. manage it 61% ineffectively The first words that surface in connection with the word “violence” are ag. whether the changes are big or small misses the point—it’s the attitude and drive that analyzes opportunities and pursues “Once you realize that it’s the process itself—that you’re not seeking a plateau —you can relax. “Decisions of the kind the executive has to make are not made well by acclamation. That focus takes us nowhere. cruel.” The words Collins and Drucker use are interesting choices in describing what it takes to make good decisions: clash. conflict. 39% right intensity level. brutal. Doing the task and doing the task better become one and the same thing.” said Peter Drucker.” “differing points of view. “Once you realize that it’s the process itself—that you’re not seeking a plateau—you can relax. one has a closed mind. Besides. “The first rule of effective communication is to embrace violence”? If there is a place for violence in communication. There’s no reason to be satisfied.” But if we can’t handle intensity. Sometimes changes are revolutions.” His colleague John Shook added. Sixty-one percent of people believe (exhibit c) that they either poorly manage the intensity they do have. an engineering manager of Toyota’s paint division. But if we mislabel intensity for being egotistical. we trade progress for soft conversation and swift consensus.violent? When’s the last time any of us read a book on communication and the opening line stated. there will be passion and intensity. But. hostility. But the constant pursuit of small. They are made well only if based on the clash of conflicting views. so do the odds of success. dissent. effectively managed lack intensity. Important changes aren’t always a vision that descends upon us.” On any team that cares about performance and making a difference. the worst of which cause many people to avoid debates altogether because of the emotional hangover they leave. Exhibit C. nearly indiscernible differences. seizes us. 3. Right Intent “Unless one considers alternatives. the end result. incremental changes accumulated over time make the bigger difference. If you just consider the paint change improvement as a snapshot. The first rule in decision. You don’t stop.. and vicious—definitely not words that smooth the exchange of ideas. but most of the time they’re not.” said Chad Buckner. the choice between different judgments.. we value the movement along the way as much as..” change that matters.” and “conflicting judgments. disagreement. That doesn’t mean that constructive discontent is only about small.making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement. High Intensity. There is too much focus in business on “being nice” and political safety. “But you don’t stop.Instead. we won’t get diversity of thought.

LC. All rights reserved.9 © 2010 FifthGear Leadership. .

especially considering that every decision that team makes will. And mediocrity won’t be far behind. and a crucial one at that. pseudo-harmonious agreement.” “powerful.tion is the intent of the people in the debate. “ On too many teams.. A 38-year-old French-born American man with degrees in finance. but don’t advance them. All rights reserved. A 25-year-old Chinese-American woman graduate student straight from Harvard Business School. we’ll refer to good “violence” as vigorous—as in “vigorous debate. When your boss meets the team for the first time. In the pursuit of intense debate the opposites of violence. Vigorous debates require a heavy investment of humility to keep intensity productive. e. Debate on any team in any organization is as critical as financial capital. 4. and one of the criteria she gives for the team is diversity. vigor from becoming violence.gether a diversity dream team.” “passionate.In producing constructive conflict and disciplined debate. you scour the company and labor market in order to put to. and European literature. highly visible project.sary. The right intent sees everyone as equals (not as superiors and subordinates). A 56-year-old seasoned Caucasian man with 25 years’ experience running his own company. Great teams don’t have less civility or understanding.neur. egotistical clashes or tranquil. is open to ideas no matter from where and when they come. But progress requires more than listening. don’t make it personal.lence) or the other (silence) —either of which trades intellectual diversity for isolating. impact the top or bottom line.tions.quires us to passionately push ourselves to explore every angle.” are neces. to keep us from being lulled into courteous but meaningless exchang. in some way.g. The willingness and ability to listen has its place. and go to intellectual extremes that test our assumptions before we make a decision. the intensity will usually turn quickly into contention and argument. she finds you’ve assembled the following people: A 32-year-old African-American woman who’s been an entrepre. They encourage the right kind of argument. but when it is needed the words just listed should characterize those debates. The main ingredient that allows people to handle intensity in a conversa. but not enough by themselves to produce real talk. and don’t take it personally. So. the pendulum of argument swings .” “gentle” and “passive. and when neces. Upon further investigation of the word violence.” Not every debate needs vigor. If the right intent is missing. Intensity must be driven and guided by the right intent. High Curiosity Let’s say your boss gives you the assignment to put together a team for a critical.” “strong” and “intense.sary. a second set of words describe a productive violence: “fierce. the pendulum of argument swings to one side (vio.” To distinguish the two kinds of violence. philosophy. 10 © 2010 FifthGear Leadership. When Nice Isn’t On too many teams. and spends as much time listening as advocating for posi. that continue discussions.” “hard. “peaceful. It re.

.. ” one side (violence) or the other (silence) .